Nelson Whakatu Microforest

Nelson Whakatu Microforest

Nelson Whakatu Microforest

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Summary

  • The project, a do-it-yourself microforest, is designed to be a model that can be replicated anywhere by small communities of non-specialists.
  • Microforests are small, densely planted areas containing up to 50 species of native bushes and trees.
  • Can absorb 30 times more carbon than conventional plantings.
  • Can be as small as 30m2—the size of three car parking places: feasible for patches of land in gardens, or as a school project.
  • Restoring natural ecosystems and biodiversity restores essential life supporting ecosystem services including its ability to sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • When groups of people—adults, teenagers, children—actively work together to support the natural environment, their mental and physical health is enriched by the process in a two-way benefit.

Origin and purpose

Initiated by Colin Davis and A.J. Clarken in July 2020, in collaboration with members of the Nelson Whakatu Muslim Association, friends, and neighbours, the project stems from the proven Miyawaki method of planting microforests in Japan, India and Europe (Fig. 1). The project was motivated by an awareness of the growing threat to nature caused by the dominant capitalist lifestyle of the rich world leading to the widespread destruction of natural ecosystems and the inexorable advance of climate change.

The group’s purpose is to act as a model of group environmental action offering a process that schools, institutions and community groups can follow in their own way.

The Miyawaki Technique

“For a natural plant community (society), the best situation is where the plants compete with each other and have to put up with each other. Our method of planting trees followed the law of the forest, and seedlings whose roots had filled the pot were planted, different species mixed together. In a natural forest, between 30 and 50 seedlings sprout per square meter. There are some places in Borneo where there are between 500 and nearly 1,000 seedlings per square meter [sic].Akira Miyawa

Key actions

  • Managed in collaboration with members of the Nelson Whakatu Muslim Association.
  • Supported by the Nelson District Council through an environmental grants funding agreement.
  • Designed to act as a model of group environmental action offering a process that schools, institutions and community groups can follow in their own way.
  • Planning and preparation based on search of proven outcome-based research (Miyawa method) and in consultation with soil experts and local native planting guides.
Fig. 1: Outputs of the Miyawa technique (Image: Afforestt)

How this helps mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change

  • Native plants sequester more carbon dioxide (drawdown) than non native species
  • The design and process maximises drawdown of carbon dioxide in a minimal space
  • Restoring biodiversity also restores the co-benefits of life-supporting ecosystem services
  • The design and process maximises drawdown of carbon dioxide in a minimal space
  • Actively engages public awareness of climate change and the role of biodiversity in mitigating impacts
  • Provides information support for start-up micro-forest projects
  • Restoring biodiversity in small areas:
    • Increases habitats for endemic taonga species including insects and birds that pollinate plants and help the soil absorb carbon dioxide.
    • When mature, becomes a local source of native seeds
    • In places less physically constrained, biodiversity ‘nodes’  more efficiently restore and regenerate adjoining areas

The process to date

Step 1: The team selected a 100 square metre area of hillside pastureland as the site for the microforest (Fig. 2).

Step 2: considering the soil texture, they decided to make and use biochar as the chief soil-enhancer on the advice of Dr Murray McClintock of Carbon Farms Ltd., Nelson, Dennis Enright, Managing Director of New Zealand Biochar Ltd., and Don Graves, plant biologist, mycorrhizologist and soil ecologist consultant.

Step 3: After a lot of experimentation A.J., a civil contractor and jack-of-all-trades, produced four drums with chimneys for burning wood and biomass to make biochar (Fig. 3). He also used a mechanical digger to level an area below the planting site where the volunteers could make and store materials for soil enhancement. Garden compost, manure, and mulch is collected to add later.

Fig. 2: Soil preparation (Image: Nelson Whakatu Microforest)
Fig. 2: Soil preparation (Image: Nelson Whakatu Microforest)

Step 4: Established a weekly Working Bee for volunteers to assist with: pruning branches from trees and mulching them; setting up the drums for burning; chopping wood for the drums; carrying wood from fallen trees; keeping the grass cut on the planting site; snipping dry twigs for kindling; keeping an eye the drum burns to keep the smoke down and to decide on the time for dousing (see Video 2 for dousing details).

Step 4: Contacted native tree nurseries to determine the maximum variety of species suitable for the area (coastal upland climatic zone). Ordered plants from Titoki Nursery for April, the best planting month.

Step 5: Site preparation: dug multiple holes in the planting site and added biochar (Figs. 2 & 4).

Fig. 3: A.J., a civil contractor and jack-of-all-trades, produced four drums with chimneys for burning wood and biomass to make biochar (Image: Nelson Whakatu Microforest)
Fig. 3: A.J., a civil contractor and jack-of-all-trades, produced four drums with chimneys for burning wood and biomass to make biochar (Image: Nelson Whakatu Microforest)

Next steps

  • Produce enough biochar to cover the site.
  • Mix large quantities of compost, manure and mulch to add to the soil.
  • Use a cultivator to dig over the site, turn over the existing grass so it’s facing the ground, and then cover with a layer of mulch.
  • Plant the seedlings 60cms apart, mixing the species randomly, protecting and supporting them with bio weed mats, stakes etc.
  • Water and weed the site for three years.
  • After that, leave the young plants to naturally compete with one another to develop into a healthy resilient forest with optimal carbon sequestration and biodiversity.
Fig. 4: Biochar (Image: Nelson Whakatu Microforest)
Fig. 4: Biochar (Image: Nelson Whakatu Microforest)

Resources and contacts

Video 1: Making a biochar machine.

Explainers


Biochar:

Biochar is charcoal that’s produced by the pyrolysis of biomass in the absence of oxygen. The pyrolytic charring makes it a stable solid rich in carbon that can last for thousands of years in soils. This makes it ideal for carbon sequestration if it can be produced without ‘spending’ more carbon in the manufacturing process. Additionally, soils with biochar added retain more water and nutrients, thereby increasing plant productivity with less water and fertilisers (Video 2).

Video 2: Biochar – putting carbon back into soils